an extract from



(Full length magazine available in the online shop as printed edition or digital ebook)

When the first tracks appear on the snow, it means that hibernation is over. The hours of light you can count on to take some good photos are only a few. In fact, bears come out at dusk, and in April days are still short, but with the unfolding of spring many changes take place. In June the snow will give way to fields in full bloom and, in July, the midnight sun will shine and give a touch of warmth to the dark forest. Then come the August rains and finally autumn, with its striking colors, when animals seek to gain as much weight as possible before going once more into hibernation.  Finland’s wild forests are the perfect place for observing their entire range of behavior during the year. […]

I’m travelling along the eastern shore of Finland, headed north. I landed in Helsinki and rented a car to take me all the 800 kilometers to Vartius, the border crossing station on the Finnish side of the Finnish-Russian border. During the ride I encounter  only a few cars near residential areas, between which lie kilometers of wild forest. The more I move northward, the more vehicles I see equipped with Hella lights – auxiliary headlamps mounted in front of the radiator. Here, in fact, car accidents caused by moose and herds of reindeer in the middle of the road at night are a life-threatening danger. Good lighting systems on cars are a must. But this time all I get to see is a glimpse of a fox in the rearview mirror. As soon as I go by, it silently crosses the roadway. […]

During the trip, with by now about a hundred kilometers between me and my destination, the last snow storms seem to want to resist giving way to spring. The sun is high and clearly visible behind the clouds, but the passing storms keep layering the road with snow. The studded tires have a good grip on cement, but it’s better to stick to the speed limit. In a few days everything will change: the sun will make the temperature rise enough to start melting the snow mounds, and the first blossoms will appear in the midst of the ice. It’s almost the end of April and, here in Finland, the brown bears are about to awake from their long winter sleep. […]

snow in finland


Today the brown bear’s nocturnal behavior will clearly limit my chances of getting him on camera. There are times of the year when I have at my disposal four hours to, hopefully, meet a specimen before the light becomes too dim for the camera; at other times, such as in the midnight sun season in July, the sun never sets.  In general, if compared to the other bears, females with cubs are more active during the day, especially in spring, to keep their cubs from being killed by males seeking a mate. […]

Temperatures during the day are between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius, but at night, when I’ll be camping out to take pictures, they will go down to -10°C. The hide is built with wooden planks, a thin layer of styrofoam, a sheet of glass as wide as the length of the hiding place (about 2 meters) and approximately 4 fingers high, and under a broad opening covered only by some fabric in order to make it possible to slip the lens through and tie it up with a string. Insulation is very poor and having to stay still all night doesn’t make things easier. I’ll try not to keep my feet on the ground, to avoid losing body heat, and I’ll sparingly use for just a few minutes the gas burner that Juho will give me. I’ve got to make it last all night. […]

brown bear on the snow
wild bear in the snow
brown bear in the white surrounding
gulo gulo

We say there is interaction between large carnivores when they share the same territory and the same prey. Bears are the largest carnivores and they have an unparalleled sense of smell, so interaction with other carnivores is almost always by way of cleptoparasitism. […] Often erroneously considered a species of bear  –due also to the misleading English nickname of skunk bear – the wolverine, the largest member of the Family Mustelidae, is a carnivore common in the arctic regions of Europe, Asia and America. This area in Finland is one of the few places where this animal can be observed.  […] Over the years I’ve seen many times bears wait for dusk to come out into the open, the wolverines I spotted would often beat them to the carcass they had scented. According to Sami tradition, it is forbidden to speak the name of this animal, because of its terrible gluttony that drives it to kill more than it needs. […]


Around the second or third week of May the snow starts to melt and in a few days the green vegetation of the taiga starts to appear again, the great expanses of white hint at the presence of frozen ponds hidden under the snow, and the sun becomes warm amid the forest trees. The greenery is dull-colored, there’s mud all around,  and the wooden planks placed on the ground to help reach the hides often bend in the middle, threatening to get my hiking shoes wet. The days start to lengthen. The time limit for reaching the hides has now changed to one hour later, and the behavior of the animals is changing as well. In the afternoon the sun starts to warm up the air and the white flowers suddenly blossom. By now even the female bears with their young have come out of hibernation and wait for the sun to set in order to leave the forest and venture out into the open. […]

Summer is now just around the corner, the snow has surrendered to vegetation, the dry grass of last autumn has come back to life, and eriophorum flowers –called cottongrass because of their soft appearance similar to cotton- have by now inundated the subarctic region. Between June and July temperatures vary from 5 to 30 degrees Celsius. This is also the midnight sun season.

brown bear in the forest
bear mirror in the lake
bear on the tree
Bear in July glass
brown bear and seagull sunset
midnight sun

In August the colors change, the flowers that filled the taiga have vanished and the tall grass starts to become yellow. Then comes the rain.

Brown bear on summer
Bear listening
bear under the August rain

Towards the end of August these animals are very active and become more and more so until their next hibernation. This is the time when males and females try to gain as much weight as possible.

Body mass can increase up to an additional 30% of the weight they had in their hypophagic phase in April. Any source of food will do, because during hibernation they will only be able to count on the fat they’ve gained to sleep and, in the case of females, to face labor and nursing. During hibernation their body temperature lowers, heart and breathing rate decrease dramatically and, consequently, brain activity as well. It may occur that they wake up and, once in a while, leave their den, but in the north it’s rare for bears to remain active all winter such as those in more temperate climates.


autumnal lake
brown bear in the autumnal Finland
Bear mirrors in the lake

Now we’re at the end of September.

I think this is the best season. I stay in the hide to look at the landscape. Now and then the crows caw, but the silence is particularly impressive. […]

From my observations, brown bears generally begin to prepare for hibernation two months in advance, speeding up nutrition. They will enter the den at the start of the first snowfalls -or immediately after- when temperatures are around 0°C. If in April the best sources of protein are the carcasses of ungulates and hunting their offspring, now plants and fresh berries are an excellent addition to their body mass. Bears play important roles in the ecosystem: besides being “street cleaners” of carcasses, together with other species of large carnivores they contribute to regulating the herbivore population, preying on young ungulates and insects. Also, in regards to plant life, they help the dispersal of seeds; in fact, they help scatter seeds of different species, carrying them in their fur and in their feces. […]

Mother and cubs in the fog
Mom bear and cubs in the fog
Big male in the fog
Brown bear in the fog (close-up)

I just stay and look at the scenery in the unbroken silence of autumn, far from everything, under a clear sky, uncontaminated by airplanes. This trip brings to an end a project that started in 2017 and progressed until 2022, slowly constructed, piece by piece, alternating trips that yielded scarce results because of the unpredictability of animal behavior with others that turned out particularly productive, such as this last one. 

You read an extract from “From Awakening To Hibernation”. Full length magazine available in the online shop as printed edition or digital ebook.